ELDERSBURG — Liberty trailed Mount Hebron by one point going into the fourth quarter of the Liberty Division final of the Liberty High School Holiday Tournament and needed a strong finish to get back on top of a game it once led by 15 points.
The Lions responded on the defensive end, shutting down the visiting Vikings in the final frame to secure a 63-57 win and a home tournament championship.
After controlling the tempo while maintaining a lead throughout the first half, Liberty allowed 21 points in the third quarter, 11 of which came from Mount Hebron guard Brandon Prox.
Prox tallied a game-high 21 points.
But the Lions (7-1) refocused on defense in the fourth and held the Vikings to just nine points, their lowest total for any quarter of the contest.
“For any good teams the way you win games is by defense, there will be days you score and days you don’t score, but that constant has to be on the defensive end,” Liberty coach Brian Tombs said. “I give Mount Hebron credit, they came out in the third quarter fired up and they just outplayed us, we didn’t compete at that time. The guys came up big, they played tougher and we held [Prox] in check a little more in the fourth quarter and that was the big difference for us.”
The Lions amassed a lead in the first half, but it wasn’t just their defense that helped them gain ground over Mount Hebron. Forward Tristan Kent scored 14 of his team-high 17 in the first half as his teammates consistently found him open inside the lane. Kent also led the Lions with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Liberty played patiently on offense and let plays develop as it made extra passes to get open looks. The Lions totaled 36 points in the first half, getting points from six different players.
But every time Liberty was starting to pull away the Vikings would go on a quick run to keep themselves within striking distance. During those stretches Mount Hebron was playing aggressive defense to force mistakes from Liberty. The Vikings forced eight turnovers in the first half.
With the help from Prox, Mount Hebron erased its nine-point deficit scoring the first 10 points of the third quarter to swing momentum in its favor. Prox was the only Mount Hebron player to finish in double figures, but it wasn’t a one-man show.
Much like Liberty did in the first half, the Vikings played patiently on offense allowing sets to develop to find open shots. In addition, Mount Hebron attacked the rim and got into the bonus less than six minutes into the half.
Jack Selby was awarded tournament MVP and Cameron Blankenship made the all-tournament team, and it may have been Blankenship’s fourth-quarter performance that won him that honor.
“I felt like we brought up the intensity level in the fourth quarter, we struggled a bit to start the half,” Blankenship said. “But I thought we brought it all together and played like a team, we shut down [Prox], we knew he was a scorer from the beginning of the game and we just did our best to shut him down.”
Blankenship scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth and his tight defense on Prox disrupted the rhythm of Mount Hebron’s offense. And it was Blankenship’s layup through traffic with 16 seconds remaining in the fourth that gave Liberty a five-point lead and effectively finished off the Vikings.
“Cameron is coming along nicely … he typically works the ball up and down the court all game long and he stepped up big tonight and it’s always nice when you can count on different people each night,” Tombs said.
Liberty is off to a fast start, and Thursday night’s win was its sixth in a row. And the early success has not been lost on Tombs.
“The one nice thing about my team is that I have some depth and we can play many different ways, game to game we can tweak and adjust as we need to,” Tombs said. “The kids play hard on a daily basis and only having to focus on little things as opposed to grand changes obviously is much easier from my end.”
Mount Hebron (57): Brandon Prox 26, Ryan Kinloch 8, Justin Carguilo 8, Alex Nazaire 7, Evan Ilchrist 6, Terrell Coleman 2.
Liberty (63): Tristan Kent 17, Cameron Blankenship 12, Jack Selby 11, Peyton Scheufele 9, Jack Merchak 6, Connor Stewart 4, Steven Goetz 4.
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Halftime: Liberty, 36-27.